Standing Rock isn’t about Dakota Access pipeline, it’s about short-sighted oil and gas industry strategy
Here’s the problem with treating pipeline protests like an “ongoing riot”: What if they never stop? What if the more protesters police arrest, the more protesters join the fray until the dispute becomes a festering tire fire that burns forever? And what if that tire fire spreads to other energy infrastructure projects?
That’s the situation confronting Enterprise Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren and American energy industry leaders after police turned water cannon on Dakota Access pipeline protesters Sunday evening.
Images of the huge machine spewing water in the eerie night light raced around global social media platforms. Indigenous protest leaders were interviewed by international TV news, accompanied by footage of Native Americans and eco-activist supporters being drenched in sub-freezing temperatures.
The issue isn’t whose story is right or wrong .
The police say protesters used slingshots to fire logs at officers. Protesters say they were trying to peacefully clear a truck from a bridge police closed Oct. 27 because they say it was damaged and unsafe.
Warren, the state government, and the police must understand that while they may win the Standing Rock battle – and that question is still very much up in the air – they stand to lose the war over energy infrastructure development.
Standing Rock is well funded, as money pours into crowdfunding sites from around the globe.
Standing Rock is well organized, partly because of support from American environmental organizations that have resources, expertise, and experience.
Standing Rock has the attention of the world, thanks to traditional media and social media.
And the Standing Rock Sioux have the moral legitimacy that comes with indigenous people defending their traditional territory.
If Donald Trump’s victory two weeks ago taught us anything, it’s that facts no longer matter and we have entered into the post-truth era.
What matters is how people feel. And how many people across the United States and the world feel about Standing Rock is angry and engaged.
That spells bad news for the oil and gas industry.
American uber activist Bill McKibben has already promised that all – yes, ALL – energy infrastructure projects will be vehemently opposed. This is called “Keystoning,” after the ferocious opposition that helped kill the Keystone XL pipeline project.
Take Kinder Morgan, which is on the hot seat in Canada where its Trans Mountain Expansion project from Alberta to the West Coast is almost certainly going to be approved within the next few weeks, but opponents are promising “20 Standing Rocks” if the Texas-based company puts a shovel in the ground.
British Columbia First Nations have signed an alliance with the Standing Rock Sioux and are supporting the Dakota Access protest. Standing Rock protesters were in Vancouver last week, recruiting help and resources, and schooling activists about strategies and techniques.
Put aside for a moment the question of the review process that gave Dakota Access the green light – the engineering studies and the consultations and the new route that supposedly safeguards Standing Rock’s water supply.
Think about the oil and gas industry’s long-term strategy for a moment.
Donald Trump says he wants to make America energy independent. No more OPEC oil or imports from states hostile to the US.
That means more domestic production and increased imports from Canada, mostly the Alberta oil sands.
Is this really a good time to be inflaming Native Americans and the environmental movement?
Is this really a good time to be insisting upon enforcement of the rule of law and doing so with a heavily militarized police that immediately gives the Dakota Access protesters the advantage of being David to industry’s Goliath?
Kelcy Warren should have de-escalated the dispute when it was small and local back in Sept. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and local authorities should have taken a much more temperate approach and done everything they could have to defuse the tensions with Sioux leaders.
It’s not too late to fix those mistakes.
But it will be soon. And if industry fails to understand what’s at stake, then it will be battling tire fires all across the United States and Canada.
And it will have no one to blame but itself.